The UK government spends about £46.6 billion a year on the military, according to figures provided by the UK to NATO, or 2.1% of GDP.
After several years of relative austerity, this military budget is now firmly on the rise, with a 10% real-terms increase since 2015, and more increases promised.
How much, in comparison, does the UK spend on preventing climate change? There are no official figures, but a recent report by an NGO coalition* estimated annual spending on “climate change and nature” to be £17 billion, which they called to increase to £42 billion.
“The first duty of government is the security of the nation and its people” – such clichés are frequently trotted out in Government military and security policy documents; but the “security” in question is almost always seen in terms of state security, centring on the military and other “hard” security tools (such as border control).
This militaristic outlook is not simply about defending the UK from military attack – a remote prospect as even the government admits – but about using armed force to attempt to solve a wide range of problems, be it terrorism or regional tensions and conflicts.
This approach has led to a series of disastrous military interventions that have made the problems they sought to address far worse. It also reflects the idea that military power is the key to the UK’s status in the world, with ministers seeing a global military presence at the core of “Global Britain” post-Brexit.
But “security” does not have to be seen in these terms. A focus on sustainable, human security would reinterpret the “first duty” of government in terms of ensuring the security of people in the UK – and, inseparably, of people around the world – from the threats they actually face, which are overwhelmingly not susceptible to military “solutions”.
Most importantly, by far the biggest and most urgent threat to people’s security, including in the UK, is climate change, which is already causing catastrophic damage and loss of life worldwide. Yet, while the government has accepted a target of reducing the UK’s net carbon emissions to zero by 2050 (which many see as too slow), it has not backed this up with the policies and resources needed to achieve it. The government’s own Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warned this year that the UK is missing almost all its targets for carbon reduction.
The CCC estimates that achieving net zero by 2050 would require investment of between 1–2% of GDP per year. Yet this is seen as unrealistic by a government that sees 2% of GDP as the absolute minimum to be spent on the military, to meet NATO’s 2% target for its members – with ministers (backed by the arms industry and its supporters) calling for far higher spending. This represents a distorted set of priorities, fuelled by a distorted, militaristic view of security, which urgently needs to change. Right now, the first duty of every government should be tackling the climate crisis.
‘Fighting The Wrong Battles – How Obsession With Military Power Diverts Resources From The Climate Crisis’ is a new report by Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman. Read the full report
Last week, a coalition of European and Yemeni groups, including CAAT, submitted a dossier to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, asking them to investigate European government and arms company officials for potentially aiding and abetting war crimes in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia and their coalition partners have been bombing civilians in Yemen ever since they entered the war there in March 2015. According to the Yemen Data Project, almost a third of coalition air strikes have been against civilian targets, and in another third of cases the nature of the target was uncertain. Around 100,000 people in total have been killed since the war started.
The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen, as well as numerous Yemeni and foreign NGOs have documented hundreds of cases of specific attacks against residential areas, schools, hospitals, agricultural facilities, market places, gatherings such as weddings and funerals, and civilian factories, many of which have killed dozens of civilians, and where no military target has been in evidence nearby. These attacks are very likely to be violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL – often known as the “laws of war”), and many may be severe enough to be classed as War Crimes. Meanwhile, the Saudi-led partial blockade of the country’s air and sea ports has helped create a devastating humanitarian crisis that has already killed tens of thousands, and has put 24 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. There is a strong case that Saudi Arabia and its allies have been using starvation as a weapon of war, which would also be a war crime.
Who is responsible for these probable war crimes? And who can be held to account for them. Of course, those most directly responsible are the military and political leaders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and other coalition members, who are waging the war, and the military officers who order and carry out attacks. Unfortunately, as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and most of their coalition partners, are not signatories to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and neither is the Yemen where the crimes take place, the actions of these leaders and officers fall outside the jurisdiction of the ICC.
However, responsibility for the crimes goes well beyond those directly engaged in the war. Campaigners have long argued that those who supply the arms used to wage wars and commit such atrocities, while knowing full well how these arms are being used, share the moral responsibility. This includes both the companies that produce and sell the weapons, and the governments that sanction and promote the deals. But can they also be held legally accountable for their role in enabling war crimes?
Holding the guilty to account
Last week in The Hague, on the 11th of December, a coalition of groups, including CAAT, launched an effort to do just that, submitting a 350-page Communication to the ICC, asking the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to launch an investigation into whether senior arms company executives and government officials (political or civil service) involved in arms export decisions, may be responsible for aiding and abetting war crimes in Yemen. The coalition is led by the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), a group of lawyers who pursue international human rights cases, and also includes Mwatana for Human Rights (a Yemeni NGO that documents abuses by all sides in the Yemen War), Amnesty International, Centre Delas (Spain), and Rete Disarmo (Italy).
The Communication lists five countries as key suppliers of the Saudi-led coalition: the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. The companies listed include those selling fighter aircraft to the Saudi-led coalition:
BAE Systems (UK), producers of the Tornado and Typhoon aircraft used by Saudi Arabia;
Airbus Defence & Space S.A. (Spain), co-procuers of the Typhoon;
Airbus Defence & Space GmbH (Germany), co-producers of the Typhoon;
Leonardo (Italy), co-producers of the Typhoon;
Dassault Aviation (France), maker of the Mirage fighters used by UAE;
Other companies named are those selling bombs, missiles, and related equipment used in the war:
through its subsidiary RWM
Thales, who produce targeting equipment used to deploy the weapons.
As well as supplying a large proportion of the aircraft that make up the Saudi and UAE’s air strike force, the companies concerned also provide ongoing supplies of spare parts, maintenance and repair, technical support, and training, necessary to keep the aircraft flying. BAE Systems in particular has 6,300 employees in Saudi Arabia, without whose work the UK-supplied Tornado and Typhoon aircraft – more than half the Saudi strike force – would quickly be grounded.
While Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and UAE are not party to the ICC, the five European countries are. Thus, the Communication argues, the decisions taken by these governments and companies to export arms, provide services, and issue export licences, are taken on the soil of ICC participant countries, and are thus subject to the jurisdiction of the ICC.
ECCHR have produced a case report, and a set of Q&A, with more details about the case.
This case… may serve as a reminder to all those involved in arms export decisions… that their choices have potentially deadly consequences, for which they may one day be held to account.
The ICC and CAAT’s Judicial Review
This is of course not the only legal case relating to this issue; CAAT’s own Judicial Review case against UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, following our June 2019 victory in the Court of Appeal, where the judges ruled that the UK Government’s approach to approving export licenses for arms that could be used in Yemen was “irrational and therefore unlawful”. The Government has been granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, and we await a court date.
The case before the ICC, however, is of a very different nature, equally and important and complimentary to the Judicial Review. CAAT’s case is a matter of administrative law regarding government policy, and if successful it could force the government to change the way it goes about export licensing – in the best case, it might force a complete halt to arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other coalition countries so long as the air war in Yemen is ongoing. The ICC case, however, is a matter of personal, criminal responsibility for war crimes, specifically the crime of aiding and abetting such war crimes through the supply of arms. At present, no specific individuals are accused; what the Communication is asking is for the OTP to investigate which individuals in the governments and companies concerned might be responsible for any potential crimes.
The road to actually placing any government ministers or officials, or arms company executives, in the dock at The Hague, is a very long one, and it is possible that no charges will ever be brought. But the principle that those who commit, or who enable and assist in the commission of war crimes, should be held accountable for their actions is of incredible importance. It would be better if leaders and senior officers and officials of the countries actually waging the war could also be held to account; perhaps it will be in the future. But so long as this case is live, it may serve as a reminder to all those involved in arms export decisions, whether at a government or corporate level, that their decisions have potentially deadly consequences for the people on the receiving end of their weapons, for which they may one day be held to account.
World military spending is going up, according to data released this week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the most authoritative and comprehensive international source on military expenditure.1 According to SIPRI, the world total increased by 2.6% in real, inflation-adjusted terms, reaching an estimated $1,822 billion. The figure is almost certainly an underestimate, given that some countries are completely excluded due to a lack of data (notably Qatar, Syria, and North Korea). A number of other countries, typically those with large natural resource revenues such as the Gulf states, often exclude spending on arms imports from the limited information they publish, funding such purchases directly from oil revenues without including them in the official budget.
New SIPRI arms transfers data shows small overall increase in global trade, but huge increase in sales to the Middle East.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) yesterday releasedits latest data on the global arms trade, for which it is by far the best source. The data provides details of deliveries of major conventional weapons worldwide from 1950-2018, both in numerical terms and with searchable lists of the actual weapons transferred between countries. The information can be found in SIPRI’s database, and some of the key points are discussed in a fact sheet also published yesterday.
Sorry I am so late in posting this. But it is a good time for it, as we have just had a successful public meeting this evening organised by Bristol CAAT, on the title “A law unto themselves: BAE, the arms trade and corruption”. The speakers were Nick Gilby (fellow blogger here) and Nick Hildyard of Cornerhouse.
We relaunched Bristol CAAT just about two years ago – we’ve been a bit on and off to be honest, based most of the time round a few most active people, but we’ve managed to put on a number of pretty good events – public meetings, dayschools, forums, protests at careers fairs where arms companies were recruiting and the like – as well as a very good research programme carried out by students at Bristol University, Tom, Maeve and Sarika, pulling together information on the activities of local arms company bases – including major BAE and Rolls Royce plants. Lately, we’ve had a few new people getting involved and enthused, so we’re hoping to become more active in the near future. Continue reading “News from Bristol”